By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 25, 2015
SMYRNA—Seminarian Avery Daniel leaves for Rome, Italy, on July 12 to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University for the next five years.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated Mass and admitted Daniel to candidacy to Holy Orders June 8 at the Chancery of the archdiocese in Smyrna.
Daniel, whose home parish is Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, in May. The step of admission to candidacy is often celebrated at the seminary, but in this case took place among his friends and family.
“The parish has been my church family,” he said. “I was the first seminarian from the parish.”
Daniel is grateful for the encouragement of the community.
“I always get letters,” he said.
Father Tim Hepburn, director of vocations, and Father Bryan Small, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul, concelebrated the Mass. Friends and family enjoyed a reception with the archbishop after Mass.
At Gregorian University, a Jesuit pontifical university for the formation of priests, Daniel will be taking graduate courses in theology.
“It’s all theology right off the bat,” he said. “It’s just—boom.”
Another challenging aspect of studying in Rome is that the instructors teach in Italian. Daniel will prepare by taking a month-long immersion course in Italian.
Daniel expressed concern about being able to handle a new language and a challenging curriculum to Archbishop Gregory.
“I know you can do it,” the archbishop told him.
“He’s been down this road,” said Daniel.
The seminarian attended St. Thomas More School, Decatur, and St. Pius X High School, Atlanta. Childhood friends from Daniel’s first days at St. Thomas More attended the reception, as did fellow seminarian Anthony Dang of the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona.
Daniel also received important advice from the archbishop to “remember where you come from.”
If events unfold as expected, Daniel will be ordained a priest in June 2019.
“I belong to the Church of Atlanta,” he said.
Encouragement from Father Eric Hill, previous pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the archbishop were definitely factors in Daniel’s decision to prepare for the priesthood.
Daniel said Father Hill once told him, “You have a vocation to the priesthood.”
Still a high school student at the time, Daniel didn’t put serious thought into becoming a priest and immediately thought of the challenges.
Later the archbishop asked Daniel, “Have you ever thought about being a priest?”
Daniel credits the Holy Spirit with his answer. “If God wants me to be a priest, I will do it,” he replied.
Daniel was confirmed by Archbishop Gregory and often served at the altar when the archbishop visited the Decatur parish to celebrate Mass. Having these connections to Archbishop Gregory helped Daniel to see the priesthood as an attainable vocation.
“I’d never met an African-American priest in my life,” said Daniel.
In the summer of 2013, Daniel visited Rome on a pilgrimage for seminarians. He is excited to learn more about the city. His mother, Phyllis Daniel, said she hopes to make a trip to Italy before too long. Avery Daniel will be at Gregorian University for a period of five years. Students there regularly have a chance to be altar servers at papal Masses.
Having the opportunity to represent the local church, particularly having the archbishop ask Daniel to study in Rome, is meaningful to him.
“It was extra special,” said Daniel.
For information on vocations or to support Atlanta’s seminarians in prayer, visit www.calledbychrist.com.